Saints come from two goals down to dump league champions at Duntocher
OBAN Saints made their penultimate away trip of a long and arduous season last Wednesday evening when they travelled to Duntocher to face Scottish Amateur Football League Premier Division champions St Joseph’s FP. Saints returned home with an excellent 4-2 win under their belts which will go a long way to repairing the pride so severely dented after the previous Friday night’s surprise Jimmy Marshall Trophy final defeat to Easthall Star. Worthy champions St Joe’s had dropped just five league points all season and went into their final fixture of the season unbeaten in the league since their opening day defeat to close neighbours Goldenhill. The Duntocher men, who recently crowned a very successful first season in charge for new management team Ajie McCall and Gary McGroarty with the capture of the Centenary Cup, would have been desperate to notch home and away victories over their old rivals. However, it was Saints who showed steely determination to fight back from two goals down and claim a deserved victory.
Manager Alex Craik saw Thomas McCulloch, Myles McAuley, Paul Carmichael, Kerr Newbigging and Dean Smith drop out from the previous Friday’s squad, with Graham Douglas, Daniel Croarkin and the gaffer himself coming in as more than capable replacements.
Hosts St Joseph’s FP kicked off on a poor William Street surface which West Dunbartonshire Council had forgotten to cut and line, making for a difficult evening for both sets of players and referee John McQuilter.
A diagonal ball over the top from left- sided midfielder Cameron Harkins gave the Saints defence its first test which Dene Cassells answered well, matching the run of striker Gregor Cree to cut out the danger.
Saints’ first attempt on goal came in the sixth minute from a Willie Gemmell throw-in on the left which Craig MacEwan back-headed inches wide of the base of the keeper’s left-hand post.
The early sparring continued with both sides having efforts just off target within a minute of each other.
The unpredictable surface almost caught out Saints keeper Graham Douglas in the 16th minute when trying to deal with routine pass-back. ‘Sugar’ couldn’t get the ball under control quickly enough and was quickly closed down by Ryan Halpin, who charged down the attempted clearance. Fortunately, the ball spun away from goal, allowing a rather relieved Douglas to safely gather.
Jamie Graham’s refusal to give up on what looked like an over-hit 19th-minute David McArthur pass on the right set up captain Ross Maitland, who beat Fraser Murray before sending in a cross which was cut out by Kieran Boyce with Donald Campbell and Craig MacEwan waiting in the middle.
The deadlock was broken in the 29th minute when Saints gave too much space to St Joe’s marauding right back Craig Cameron. Cutting inside Scott Maitland, Cameron sent a low cross along the six-yard which Gregor Cree gratefully tucked away at the back post.
Saints responded well to the setback and came within inches of an equaliser just two minutes later. Ross Maitland won a throw-in on the right level with the 18-yard line which, instead of the anticipated long throw, Willie Gemmell took short to Brian Mackay. Brian’s return ball was whipped in at pace by Willie to the back post where Craig MacEwan got in front of Craig Cameron to flash a head- er inches wide of Sean Gibbons’ right-hand post.
The remainder of the fairly even first half passed by without significant incident, leaving Saints feeling slightly disappointed to be behind.
The Oban side kicked off the second half playing down the gentle William Street slope and were quickly on the attack with Jamie Graham making good progress on the right and Donald Campbell blazing a David McArthur cut-back over the bar from 18 yards.
Disaster struck for Saints after just four second half minutes when Graham Douglas dallied too long on a Dene Cassells pass back and was robbed by Ryan Halpin just inside the 18-yard box. He then had the simplest of tasks to roll the ball into the unguarded net, doubling the hosts’ advantage.
Saints hauled themselves back into the match in spectacular fashion in the 58th minute from a sweetly struck Scott Maitland 30-yard effort which arrowed into the roof of the net, giving Sean Gibbons no chance.
After 60 minutes Marc Maccallum made way for Matthew Kelly, who took up his accus- tomed right back position, with Jamie Graham moving into the middle to fill the space vacated by Maccallum.
It was very much game on in the 62nd minute when a neatly threaded David McArthur pass picked out Donald Campbell’s run from midfield. With the home defence caught square, Donald raced through the middle and passed the ball precisely into the bottom corner past the left hand of Sean Gibbons.
The visitors completed the turnaround in the 67th minute from another Graham Douglas clearance. Craig MacEwan held off the attentions of Craig Cameron on the Saints’ left and played the ball infield to Donald Campbell. Donald’s perfectly weighted pass sat up invitingly for Brian Mackay to stroke the ball into the bottom corner just out of reach of the advancing Sean Gibbons.
Manager Alex Craik added some fresh legs in the 69th minute when Ross Maitland made way for Fraser MacFarlane.
A terrific cross-field pass from Donald Campbell in the 71st minute saw Saints come within a post’s width of adding a fourth when Brian Mackay hit the outside of Sean Gibbons’ left-hand post after pulling down Donald’s pass from wide on the Saints left.
St Joe’s were unbeaten in 17 home league and cup fixtures and were in no mood to meekly surrender this proud record to their old rivals.
When St Joe’s did threaten in the 80th minute, Dene Cassells made a good block to stop Kieran O’Brien with the ball breaking out to the left from where Cameron Harkins delivered a good cross which Ryan Halpin headed just wide of Sugar’s left-hand post.
Willie Gemmell turned the clock back several years with an 86th-minute lung-bursting run for a Fraser MacFarlane pass which Kieran O’Brien read well to beat Willie and turn out for a throw-in.
Willie took the throw-in quickly to Craig MacEwan, who turned away from Kieran Boyce and raced into the box, sending a cut-back to Brian Mackay who fired a first-time effort wide of Sean Gibbons’ right-hand post.
Mackay was, however, not to be denied his second goal of the evening with Craig MacEwan and Willie Gemmell again both heavily involved in the buildup. Willie’s 88th minute ball up the left for Craig MacEwan saw Saints’ top scorer turn provider, tricking his way past Kearn Docherty and clipping the ball over Sean Gibbons and Martin McComish in the six-yard box for Brian Mackay to side-foot home at the back post.
Daniel Croarkin came on to replace Donald Campbell for the closing stages, making his first appearance since recovering from a long-term injury.
Saints comfortably saw out the three additional minutes allowed by Mr McQuilter to seal a deserved victory over this season’s league champions.
Manager Alex Craik was delighted with the performance. He said: ‘We played some great football on a very tricky surface. I was a bit disappointed with the two goals we lost, but once we got into our stride there was only going to be one winner.’
The Oban side make their final away trip of the season this Saturday when they head to the tail o’ the bank to face Inverclyde on the 3G surface at Battery Park, Greenock, with a noon kick- off so the boys can get back to Oban to watch the Scotland v England game.
Brian MacKay tucks away Saints’ fourth goal against St Joseph’s at William Street last Wednesday.
Donald Campbell takes on Kieran O’Brien.